The publisher of the Wolverhampton Express and Star, Midland News Association, has put 90 jobs at risk of redundancy including 14 in editorial.
The Express and Star is England’s largest paid-for regional daily newspaper with a circulation of 33,000.
The proposed redundancies include 45 in advertising, 15 in production, 14 in editorial, seven in transport, six in circulation and three in finance according to the National Union of Journalists.
MNA said in a statement: “The Midland News Association, publishers of the Express & Star and Shropshire Star, has confirmed that it is in consultation with staff over potential redundancies due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on its business.
“The coronavirus outbreak has severely affected advertising revenue and forecasts suggest the difficult trading conditions will continue throughout 2020.
“As a result, the MNA is consulting with staff as it reviews its portfolio of free publications.”
MNA print managing director Graeme Clifford said: “The review of our portfolio could, regrettably, lead to redundancies as we look to secure a sustainable future for the company in these unprecedented circumstances.
“Our priority is to support members of staff whose roles are potentially affected by the changes and, while we are in consultation, it would be inappropriate to make any further comment at this time.
“In the meantime, we will continue to focus on our core titles, including the Express & Star and Shropshire Star, to ensure that we continue to serve our loyal readers and advertisers both in print and online.”
The company has already made use of the government furlough scheme and is now looking for redundancy volunteers.
The cuts will impact MNA’s free newspapers, including Chronicle Week, the Shrewsbury Chronicle and Telford Journal, which have been suspended since March.
The MNA also owns the Shropshire Star, which has an average daily circulation of 17,453.
The NUJ has urged the UK government to “provide urgent assistance and support to the media industry to ensure the future viability of local public interest journalism across the UK”.
NUJ north of England organiser Chris Morley said: “”It is deeply troubling that Midland News Association is looking to shed almost a quarter of its entire staff, including a significant number of its already extremely hard-pressed editorial department.
“It is the least worst option that the company is seeking to achieve such big reductions by voluntary means. But the magnitude of the cuts is such that this needs to be done over a longer time frame and with greater consultation to arrive at the best possible outcome for the business to survive after the Covid-19 crisis has passed.
“As the government has extended the Job Retention Scheme at current rates to the end of July, this gives the company the latitude to do this. Morally this should be done because of the huge payments that the public purse has already made in supporting jobs at MNA and those leaving face one of the hardest job markets for decades.
“It is disappointing that the company has made this announcement without giving greater clarity on the true extent of the problems it faces. No one doubts that the advertising market is difficult but loyal and hard-working employees are entitled to be satisfied that such drastic action is fully justified.
“I sincerely hope that MNA’s actions do not fundamentally weaken the core news business and are not a harbinger of similar savage cut-backs in the industry – this would be totally unacceptable with all the public money that has been pumped in.
“What we do know is that communities throughout the Black Country and Shropshire face having less local news as edition structures are condensed and weekly titles have fewer journalists with local knowledge working on them.”